Momentum

(commentary)

Mass * Velocity. 

Here’s the thing that most of the fanboys don’t want to talk about: momentum. Ultimately, momentum is one of the predictors of continued success in product marketing. If you have momentum, you can survive downturns and weather most problems. If you don’t have momentum, you won’t grow relative to your competitors or the market in general. Indeed, you may contract. 

Overall, cameras don’t have the momentum they once had. The mass is no longer expanding, but contracting, while the velocity is no longer rising, but falling. Picture-taking, however, is increasing in mass and velocity because of smartphones. And that is causing a shift in attitude about the convenience and usefulness of “cameras.” Those already committed to cameras won’t really be convinced that a smartphone is a better solution, while those who are just getting into photography have a different opinion. 

Frankly, the camera makers brought this situation on themselves. I’ll use just one piece of technology to illustrate: WiFi. The smartphones are all headed into the latest 802.11a realm, the camera makers are all using low-cost parts using old standards, and are slower. The smartphones have no trouble talking to my home network or computer and transferring things like photos in either direction, the cameras barely manage to talk to a smartphone using an app that’s been poorly written by the camera makers, and which will transfer slowly. And let’s not talk about security, reliability, signal strength, or a host of other WiFi-related issues the camera makers are getting wrong.

Making bad technology choices and creating poor implements of same can certainly impact momentum. But frankly, way back in 2003 I wrote about what the real problem was: household penetration. How many high-end cameras did a household need? The answer is less than one. And has been since film cameras were invented. At even the growth rates of the early century it was easy to predict that penetration would quickly max out. With that in mind, you have two choices (three if you don’t mind hitting the ceiling and bouncing downwards ;~): (a) find a way to increase penetration; or (b) restart the penetration game by completely reinventing the high-end camera. And (b) doesn’t mean just take out the mirror, it means a complete rethink to the point where any reasonable person would say “I’ve got to replace what I’ve got, as this new thing solves new problems my old camera doesn’t.” Those problems required programmability and communications to solve, see above for how well the camera makers did.

Okay, so overall the momentum is trending downward. How about individually? That seems like an appropriate subject for the week where an important public camera show, PhotoExpo Plus, is about to begin in New York. 

Canon and Nikon have large mass. Fujifilm, Leica, Olympus, Panasonic, and Pentax have little mass. Sony falls somewhere in between. 

Velocity is all over the board. I’d argue that Nikon has near zero velocity at the moment. They went back to the drawing boards for some reason, and what’s trickled out lately isn’t moving the bar. Nikon had huge velocity with the D3/D300 introductions followed by the D700 and the re-thinking of the consumer DSLRs that led to the 3/5/7xxx models. They had pretty good velocity with the D4/D800 introductions. And then they killed that velocity with repeated camera issues responded to very badly. They’ve now reverted to pricing and gray market dumps to maintain market share. So with Nikon Newton’s first law is easily observable: an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted on by a force. Yes, large mass. No velocity. Momentum won’t change until a force restores velocity. 

Sony has a far lower mass, but their constant stream of technical changes and new and revised models gives them the appearance of a lot of velocity, at least in the “anything new”-hungry press and Internet enthusiast fora. In terms of sales, the velocity is indeed changing, but far slower than most people seem to think. Nevertheless, one has to conclude that Sony has momentum of some sort. That grows mass, so it’s the old snowball rolling down a hill thing: the snowball should get bigger and roll faster as long as the status quo remains.

Canon has huge mass and, surprisingly to some, a fairly reasonable level of velocity. The entire product line is iterating, new things are appearing, we’ve got printers and home servers as well as cameras giving the appearance of momentum in the imaging business, and frankly, Canon’s marketing and public relations are so much better than Nikon’s at the moment that even if we weren’t getting new M’s, G’s, 7’s and 5’s, Canon would still appear to have more velocity to most people than Nikon. 

Fujifilm has very low mass, but reasonably good velocity. 

Leica has very low mass, but reasonably good velocity.

Olympus has very low mass, not particularly good velocity.

Panasonic has very low mass, and seems to go up and down in velocity randomly.

Pentax has very low mass, and not particularly good velocity. Pre-announcing that you’re going to join the full frame ranks someday when even Leica managed that quickly is the opposite of velocity.

From all this one could predict what’s going to happen in terms of market shares in the near term: Canon will easily retain or grow theirs; Nikon will struggle to retain theirs; Fujifilm, Leica, and Sony will grow theirs, though the first two have very low shares to begin with so that shouldn’t be difficult; Olympus and Panasonic need more velocity to grow theirs. Pentax is going backwards. 

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